Thursday, 20 November 2008

Room to Roam?

The following article is courtesy of "RAC World Autumn/Winter 08/09:

Caravan and motorhome sales are booming in the UK, so what's the attraction of a "box-on-wheels? Road Hog Jeremy Taylor finds out.

"Some, and its only a matter of opinion of course, accuse them of being big, white and ugly. Yet there must be something about motorhomes. Why else, last year, did thousands of families fork out up to £60,000 on one?

Despite being the butt of endless jokes and despite leaving frustrated road users cursing in their wake, sales of both caravans and camper vans are soaring, reaching an all-time high of 11,646 new motorhomes sold in 2007. Add to that the 69,000 caravans snapped up in the same year and you begin to get some idea of their popularity.

If you, like me, think that figure doesn't sound too alarming, consider this: experts say there are now a staggering 141,000 motorhomes registered on UK roads and the Caravan Club has one million members. That's enough to bring the highway network grinding to a halt behind a barricade of net curtains and swirly patterned upholstery.

But surely those thousands of owners can't be wrong? After all, younger buyers are the driving force behind the latest boom. Go slow thirty-somethings are now the target audience for manufacturers, who tempt them with trendy interiors and flatscreen TVs. The rising price of air travel and a fear of being "packaged" on holiday are also key selling points. Whether it's the Glastonbury Festival or Le Mans, a camper van makes the perfect getaway vehicle for weekend events too.

Still not convinced? Famous motorhome owners who have caught the bug include radio presenter Jeremy Vine, Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, singer Jay Kind and Steve McFadden, aka Eastenders' tough guy PhillMitchell. Even Robbie Williams has succumbed, according to the Motorhome Information Service "With everything on board, a motorhome takes you closer to the action" reckons spokeswoman Ruth de Mierre. "They're powerful vehicles, with turbo-diesel engines, giving decent fuel consumption as well as on-the-road performance. It's a "living" vehicle for people who enjoy living in style, any time, any place".

If you can beat them, join them. Which is why I'm writing this from the luxury "lounge" of my £40,000 Auto-Sleeper Sigma EK. Based on a Peugeot chassis, it's a popular mid-price model for four people. For that sort of money I could have bought a Porsche Boxster or three months of pampering at the Dorchester.

I should point out that I did once own a truly trendy VW Split Screen Camper, the same as chef Jamie Oliver's It was cool, whilst the Sigma, for all its luxuries, still looks like it's only missing a giant slot on the front for washing powder.

However, parked up on an Oxfordshire campsite, I'm already beginning to see why it's so easy to become a van fan. For starters, there's a distinct lack of naff cloth and loads of space for a family. It's ridiculously easy to drive, and apart from almost ripping the roof off under a low country bridge, very manoeuverable. If you are used to reversing a supermini, and not a 21 ft monster like this, parking sensors are an option.

The standard 2.2 litre engine can be upgraded to a 3 litre, so the quieter engine won't annoy every other holidaymaker who is facing an uncertain night ahead in a B&B. Cruise control, air conditioning and different upholstery are also available.

What you can't rush in your home on wheels is reading the instruction book. Just like a new tent, trying to convert the inward-facing seats into a double bed and fathoming the electric system will have you cursing, if left to the last minutes (AP comment: hope you are heeding this, Mrs Edwina Curry).

The Sigma sports a bed above the driver's cab, which your kids will love, There's even a net to stop them landing on top of you in the night. And, if the thought of waking up in a remote field is worrying, this model has a full kitchen, shower and electric flush toilet. Perhaps, more importantly, if you don't like the view from the window or your fellow camping pals prove noisy in the night, it only take a few minutes to cook a full English breakfast, pack up and move on. And that's the best reason to buy a camper van: freedom. If only they didn't paint them all white, then perhaps we would see even more on the road ....

Statistics courtesy of the Motorhome Information Service."
Above image: Camping on the beach at Muasdale Touring Park, Kintyre, Scotland
Copyright AvailablePitch.com 2008

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